When you run an ecommerce shop, you know a portion of customers will end up returning their products. It’s simply par for the course, and you need to factor that into your cost of doing business.

And when a customer decides to send back an item, in order to stay competitive, you’ll probably need to bear the brunt of your customer’s return shipping costs. 

It’s worth making the returns process as easy and painless for your customers as possible – 95% of online shoppers say that a great returns experience will make them more likely to buy from a retailer again. 

Part of that process involves offering a self-service platform like Loop, where customers can initiate their own returns and easily select from a refund or exchange, rather than routing them through customer service for support. 

The other part involves providing them with flexible options for how to pack and return the item, without footing the bill for the reverse logistics process. Often, that means providing your customers with pre-paid return shipping labels. 

Here’s what you should know about return shipping labels:

What is a return shipping label?

Return shipping labels are identification labels that include details for a mail carrier so that they can deliver a package to its intended recipient.

Shipping labels typically include information including the recipient’s name and address, package weight, internal shipping information, a tracking bar code, and the order’s priority for shipping. The postage amount is based either on weight, or on a flat rate shipping fee based on the item class.

Return shipping labels can be generated either directly from a carrier partner, such as USPS, UPS, FedEx, or DHL, or through a third-party fulfillment partner, such as ShipBob, Whiplash, or others. If you’re paying the shipping costs, you’ll prepay for the customer’s shipment when their label is scanned by the carrier. If they’re expected to pay the cost, they’ll do so at the post office or drop-off location.

Some merchants elect to provide return shipping labels within each delivery, just in case a customer needs to make a return. Others ask customers to print out their own return shipping labels when they go through the returns process. And still others don’t ask customers to print or affix the labels at all, but instead offer them a QR code that they can scan at a drop-off location to generate a return shipping label.

Printable/pre-delivered v. scannable labels

As a merchant, will you provide a better customer experience by providing pre-delivered or printable labels, or by offering scannable QR codes? There are pros and cons to each method.

  • Printable/pre-delivered
    By enabling the customer to affix an existing label, or to print out the label themself, they should be able to send off a return without ever leaving their house. Of course, that’s assuming that they haven’t thrown away the original packaging materials, and have strong tape to secure the box. If they’re not prepared, they’ll likely need to run to the store to pick up packaging supplies, making the experience less worry-free than they’d bargained for. And some items require even more specialized packaging, and the customer may end up sending an item back in a way that it’s likely to get damaged in transit. With this method, you also receive packages one by one, and are not eligible for any group shipping rates. 

  • Scannable QR code
    On the other hand, if you ask your customer to drop off the item to a certified drop-off location, they may not even need to repackage the item at all – typically, the drop-off center is responsible for securing the packages, so there’s a higher likelihood that they’ll be delivered to you safely. And, if you don’t need the item back urgently, you can wait for additional returns to be grouped together in the same shipment, helping you save costs on reverse logistics. This method may be a downside for the customer, though, especially if they don’t live close to a drop-off location – they’re likely to find getting to the drop-off location to be a bigger hassle than repackaging the item, and may be frustrated with the process.

Which path should you choose? 

Why not both?

By providing the option to either mail their own package back with a printed or pre-made label, or to visit a drop-off location where their item will be repackaged for them, you can customize the returns experience based on each customer’s unique preferences.

Some customers may prefer to complete the returns process all at home, while others may find it more useful to get someone else to repackage their item. By providing both choices, customers can do whatever’s most convenient for them.

That said, there are some situations when asking the customer to visit a drop-off location is the better option, even if it’s not their preference. If you sell fragile, breakable items that require special care and handling, you should use scannable QR codes for your returns with these types of items, ensuring that they’ll be safely delivered based on your packaging standards. 

Delivering a great returns experience

Providing customized options for your customers is a key part of delivering a great post-purchase experience, which will help ensure that your customers will buy from you again, even after a return. 

By giving them the tools to manage returns on their terms – both with a self-service platform, and with multiple options for return shipping – you’ll be able to deliver a seamless and intuitive experience that will help them remain confident in your brand promise through the entire process.

Want to learn more about delivering a great returns experience? See how Loop can help.